A Sense of Place: Sustainable Placemaking

2nd - 5th September 2009, Eden Project, Cornwall


Where to start? The 2009 Sense of Place: sustainable placemaking was our fourth Sense of Place event, this year run in partnership with Eden Project and Carnegie Trust UK. Every year we try to work out how to capture the essence of what happened there. We've tried full transcriptions of each talk, quick summaries of each speaker's talk, and prose descriptions of the event, but none really gets to the heart of the thing. We've pondered on why this is, and we reckon the answer is that a good proportion of the important stuff goes on between the presentations: over the tea and sandwiches, on the bus, the couch, round the fire, on the beach and in the pub.

Many people in the UK still live in environments that are disengaging, intimidating, and woefully inadequate. Sense of Place is about how we can do these things better. It's about making connections: connections between people and their environment; between people who didn't realise they should be working together; and between ideas that have never existed in the same room before.

You should have been there. That's what it boils down to. In a world increasingly at home in the non-place of cyberspace, Sense of Place goes the other way. We choose to make the event something most people have to journey to because we feel that the journey, the gradual change in the landscape, and the gradual letting go of baggage from the office, is an important part of the experience. We choose places with poor Blackberry™ reception, but good blackberries in the hedge. We choose to have the event in places that contribute positively to the conversation, not in stifling beige convention centres designed to cater for just what everyone expects. The event is about how we can make places better, and to talk about this we need to be in a better place. It's about how places shape how we think and how we live. It's about how our connection to place enables us to be a useful part of a community. It's about being here now not about cherry picking some bons mots from copies of the Powerpoints when you find this report online.

Sense of Place is less a conference than it is part of an ongoing conversation. As Tony Kendle remarked at the "summing up", there is no summing up, because the conversation doesn't end here. Every event welcomes a new group of people into the conversation which swells and continues long after the last person leaves the camp fire. Those of us who have attended every one are in a position to distil something from the common stories that crop up time after time. So this year for reportage we're trying something new.

Place is about landscape, place is about people and place is about stories. If you were at Sense of Place, then you'll have experienced the landscape of Cornwall and you'll have experienced the people at the event: the Sense of Place family of which, if you were there, you are now a part. Every person had a story, everyone had something to share. The key lessons of Sense of Place are entwined somewhere in this web of stories and ideas.


Tony Kendle from Eden Project gave the keynote address about the importance of rebuilding connections between people and place and about how the ideas for projects that make a positive difference to people come more often from the kitchen table than from the boardroom.

John Fox and Sue Gill talked about the nature of celebration through their work with Welfare State International and more recently with the publication of the Dead Good Guides.

Susan Humphries and June Durrant from Coombes School talked about school as the heart of a community and about how they have developed outdoor places that can be used to support curriculum teaching.

John Zeisel, president of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, talked about how activities and places that are meaningful can help people with Alzheimers live a better life by connecting on an emotional and sensory level.

Kate Braithwaite from Carnegie Trust UK talked about the positive outlooks for rural communities, the importance of pursuing asset-based approaches in community development, and Fiery Spirits, the online community of practice for rural activists and professionals.

Saffron Woodcraft outlined the Young Foundation's research into neighbourliness and belonging in communities in England.

David Kamp, landscape architect and founding principal of Dirtworks PC, presented his designs for healthcare facility grounds that supported a return to intimacy with our environment

Jen Bartlett from Brisbane (and now with the Sensory Trust) talked about her work in engaging communities with a city responding to change

Angie Hart from Brighton University talked about building successful community collaborations with universities (the CUPP) and covered some of the work the university is doing on resilience

Sveva Gallman, from the Gallman Memorial Foundation, presented slides from her Four Generations project linking generations through narrative in Kenya and now in Romania.

Breakout sessions included:

  • 'On the couch' with Kate Braithwaite discussing rural assets
  • Sue Gill ran a workshop on undiscovered stories in communities
  • John Fox ran a workshop 'reading the sky'
  • Will Coleman ran a storytelling workshop to help articulate community stories

Eco Town

A Sense of Place explored the wide range of skills and specialisms that we will need to successfully create new places and settlements.

Videos from Sense of Place 2009

You can now watch videos capturing the essence of Sense of Place: sustainable placemaking in widescreen high-definition glory.

Jane Stoneham talking about Sense of Place